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Caitlin Leavey holds a photo of her father. She stands near the inscription of his name at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City.
Bianca Alexis
A map showing the locations of the September 11 attacks
Jim McMahon
The Twin Towers, the original One and Two World Trade Center buildings, opened in 1973.
Alamy
One World Trade Center overlooks the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, which includes two pools where the towers once stood.
BROKER/Alamy
My Dad: A 9/11 Hero
Caitlin Leavey remembers her father, who died in the 9/11 terror attacks.

by Caitlin Leavey, as told to Joe Bubar

Like all Americans, I consider September 11, 2001, to be one of our country’s most tragic days. That morning, terrorists hijacked, or took over, two airplanes and flew them into the Twin Towers, the tallest buildings in New York City. Terrorists flew a third plane into the Pentagon building near Washington, D.C. A fourth hijacked plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. A total of nearly 3,000 people died. My dad, Joseph Leavey, was one of them.

My dad was a New York City firefighter. His station was less than a mile from the Twin Towers. After the planes hit, he and hundreds of other courageous rescue workers went into the burning towers to try to save as many people as possible. He died doing everything in his power to make sure the people in those buildings could get home safely. I’m proud to call him my hero.

A DIFFICULT DAY

On 9/11, as that day is often called, I was in my second week of fifth grade at Hutchinson Elementary School in Pelham, New York. During the day, I heard other kids mumbling that something had happened at the Twin Towers. But nobody seemed to really know what was going on. It wasn’t until school let out that I realized something might be wrong. My dad usually picked me up, but he wasn’t there.

When I got home, my mom, older sister, and older brother told me that the Twin Towers had been attacked, and my dad had gone there to try to help. Most of the rest of that day is a blur. I remember only bits and pieces, like my mom calling hospitals all over New York City, hoping to find my dad. Two days later, she told me that he was probably gone.

We didn’t learn exactly what had happened to my father until much later. We found out that he had sent a radio message at 9:56 a.m. on September 11. At the time, he was fighting a fire on the 78th floor of the South Tower. Just three minutes later, the tower collapsed. The other tower came crashing down about a half hour later.

REMEMBERING 9/11

Growing up without my father wasn’t easy. Sixteen years later, I still think about him every day. He instilled (put into a person’s mind slowly, over a period of time) in me a love for my community, and his bravery inspired me to volunteer with the 9/11 Legacy Advocates. The group consists of people who lost family members on 9/11. We attend events in New York City, where we teach others about the importance of that day.

When I look back on 9/11, I don’t think only of the tragedy. I also remember the amazing acts of heroism by so many people, especially my dad.